There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..



Sunday, 27 November 2016

Hong Kong History Museum, Dim Sum and Mongkok: Part 5 of Hong Kong and Macau

We last visited the Hong Kong History Museum over a decade ago. Nothing in this city stands still, so a second visit seemed overdue.

With the weather showing a welcome improvement we set off on the short walk, down Nathan road and past the end of Nanking Street. On our first visit in 2004 we had stayed in Nanking Street so we detoured to see how it looked now.
This area has seen no major changes, but alterations have been incremental and continuous, so my 2016 photograph….
Nanking Street, Kowloon, Nov 2016
…shows a tidier scene and rather different scene from the 2004 version. Not having the earlier photo with me I inadvertently stood 50m further back, but this really is the same street.
Nanking Street, Kowloon, July 2001
Walking down Nathan Road and turning left into Austin Road, we found the museum easily enough though the entrance eluded us for a while.

Hong Kong History Museum
The museum was certainly larger and more comprehensive than I remembered. Beautifully laid out with clear explanations in English and Chinese, it started with the geology and prehistory of the area and then traced the territories development from the first human arrivals to the present day.

Stone tools found at Sai Kung (our destination tomorrow) and elsewhere suggest the first inhabitants arrived some 30,000 years ago in the early stone age.

Hong Kong became absorbed into the Chinese empire during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) but the grave goods on show were rather more modest than the Qin Emperor’s Terracotta Army.

Grave goods, Hong Kong History Museum
In the 13th century the Mongol Invasion gradually eroded the Song Dynasty’s grip on northern China until, in 1271, Kublai Khan proclaimed himself first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. The Southern Song survived until 1279 and for a time their capital was on Lantau Island, now part of Hong Kong.

The capital of the Southern Song was briefly on Lantau Island

We looked at some early ceramics…

Early pottery, Hong Kong History Museum
…and the folk culture of the Hakka (we met them in Fujian where some still live in their traditional Tulous), Hokkien, Punti and Tanka, all regarded as indigenous peoples, though the Hakka and Hokkien mainly arrived in the 17th century, the forerunners of a tsunami of migrants driven first by the Taiping Rebellion. 1850-64, (see the Nanjing (2) post) then a series of famines, outbreaks of unrest and finally the Cultural Revolution.

We took a coffee break as we reached the Opium Wars which resulted in Hong Kong becoming British in 1841, though they were far from the British Empire’s finest hours.

Refreshed, we took a walk through the birth and growth of the modern city, the Japanese occupation of 1941-5 and the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. ‘One country, two systems’ has worked reasonably well since, though not as seamlessly as the Museum would like you to believe and with Xi Jinping now effectively Chinese President for life and flirting with the idea of a personality cult, the future looks troubled.

The museum covered politics, but also looked at the lives of ordinary people with reconstructions of a port scene and a bank, tailor’s, grocer’s and herbal medicine shops, a tea shop and a pawn shop among others.

Hong Kong History Museum
We had not expected to be spend three hours there, but there was much to see and it is a model of what such a museum should be.

We left in warm sunshine with the intention of having a dim sum lunch and allowed ourselves to be captured by a tout on Nathan Road. Our idea was not particularly novel for a Sunday lunchtime, but there was one table available. The more people you have the more variety you can order and the better dim sum becomes, but there were only two of us so we did our best ordering steamed pork dumplings, prawn spring rolls, fried beef, cakes and custard buns. I thought it was a lovely light lunch, though Lynne would later take issue with my concept of ‘light’.

Dim Sum lunch, Nathan Road, Hong Kong
In the afternoon we walked north along Nathan Road….

Nathan Road, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong
…to Mongkok, a densely populated rectangle of land that was once the most northerly point of urban Kowloon.

130,000 Filipinos live and work in Hong Kong - the territory’s largest ethnic minority - and many, perhaps most, are women working as domestic helps. All spare cash goes to their families back home so on their day off they need a cheap way to socialise. Many congregate around the outer islands ferry terminal, spread blankets on the pavement, have a picnic, chat and play cards. Not wishing to risk our lives crossing Mongkok Road we used one of the linked the footbridges and found another place where they gather, a large, friendly, unthreatening crowd. carefully leaving space for those using the bridges for their intended purpose.

A little further north we left Nathan Road to walk through the Goldfish Market. Aquariums are popular in Hong Kong and this is where their denizens – and not just goldfish - are bought and sold. We walked down the street looking at the fish in the shop window tanks…

Fish tank in a shop window, Goldfish Market, Monkgok
…and at other tanks which seemed inappropriate for their non-fishy residents.

Terrapins, Goldfish Market, Mongkok
Many fish are sold in plastic bags hung on boards outside the shops, like the fairground prizes of my youth, though a far greater variety of species are subjected to this unnecessary indignity.

Aquarium fish sold in plastic bags, Goldfish Market, Mongkok
The Flower Market is a few streets further north and here, at least, there are no problems with the welfare of the merchandise. Twisted bamboo…

Twisted bamboo, Flower Market, Mongkok
… pitcher plants, and more regular flowers and shrubs were available in abundance.

Pitcher plants. Flower Market, Mongkok 
I am not sure why we walked round Mongkok Stadium, a 7,000-seat stadium shared by two of Honk Kong’s Premier League football clubs, to Boundary Road. Until the New Territories were leased from China in 1898 this was where Hong Kong stopped. Much of Kowloon’s extended urban area is technically in the New Territories, but further north there are large rural areas.

Boundary Road, Mongkok, once the end of the world
Beyond the stadium we turned back south into the bird market. Cage birds have always been popular throughout China and on those increasingly rare occasions you find yourself among traditional-style housing, every front door will have a cage with songbird hung over it, and elderly men will take their birds for an evening stroll in the park.
Mongkok bird market
Neither of us liked the overcrowded cages…
Overcrowded cages, Mongkok bird market
…or, indeed any birds in cage, even the traditional style Chinese cages. So why had we come here?
Traditional Chinese birdcage, Mongkok bird market
After a long day and a lot of walking we took the MTR back to our hotel.
Lynne was reluctant to go out to eat in the evening after our big lunch – which was not quite how I saw it. We compromised by sharing a single dish, though once we had picked a restaurant and settled down she insisted on sweet and sour pork – pretty much like we get at home. Grumpiness was displayed.

No comments:

Post a Comment